Kanishka RatnayakeBuilding capacity of nonprofit organizations in the Global South

Capacity building is a common word that we have come to associate in the Development sector. In fact, this has been a buzzword for many decades freely used by donors and practitioners alike. In essence, it is the process of developing and strengthening the skills, abilities, processes and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in the fast changing world.  Similarly, there is an alternative discourse about the effectiveness and the impact of capacity building. Has it yield the results it expected? All the while, some people cringe when they hear this word, as it has lost its impact. This is due to the fact that some of the intended outcomes, expected to address has failed while many countries and communities are still struggling to show a marked improvement. So how did it fail in some places while some places has great success stories to tell. It could be many reasons while some may be unique to the regions or those communities. To enjoy the fruits of capacity building, it requires leadership, policies, advocacy and above all a mission and a vision.

Capacity building can take different forms from sharing skills and knowledge to monetary donations while it also can be in kind assistance. There can be many approaches to build the capacity of a nation, community to a grassgroot level organization. Today, I am going to talk about Philanthropy University’s approach to build capacity of nonprofit leaders and grassroot organizations in the global south. The approach taken by Philanthropy university is to offer free online courses that will provide civil society organizations with the training, support, and resources they need to execute on mission and achieve their goals. Philanthropy University believe that these organizations are best placed to deliver services, improve the lives of those they serve, and offer lasting solutions grounded in the context of their communities. By investing in the development of organizational infrastructure, through human resources, fundraising, and change management for example, organizations are stronger and better positioned to respond to the critical issues in their communities.  

Founded by His Excellency, Amr Al-Dabbagh, together with CEO / Co Founder, Connor Diemand Yauman aims to impact the lives of 100 million people by 2020 by training hundreds of thousands of learners working for social good, elevating their cause and furthering their reach. To this effect, Philanthropy University operates in three different approaches. They can be simplified under three buckets, 3C’s. The “Courses” , “Community” and “Capital”


In an age where education is highly monetized, the seven courses offered by Philanthropy University is free. It has helped many individuals and organizations to measurably improve their work and impact. It is evident, since it’s 2015 launch, Philanthropy University’s seven unconditional courses have attracted more than 220,000 learners from over 180 countries. The partnership, Philanthropy University has with University of California, Berkeley, has gone on to benefit hundreds of learners to earn the free Certificate in Social Sector Leadership.


To create the best-in-class learning experiences that teach the skills and competencies it’s utmost necessary to create dynamic community spaces for the sharing of best practices. To take the learning into the next level, the community management team play a vital roles to build bridges between different geographies. These online hubs are very organic. The learners are provided with a platform to test assumptions, share best practices and learn from one another. This is commonly know as the peer to peer learning. They will form groups according to their thematic areas of interests. Also, these hubs could comprise of learners from different time zones who are very much committed to enriching the community experience. There are a unique group  of volunteer “course champions” who are readily available to help on another. These are the previous students who have excelled in these courses and gone on the win the prestigious certificate from the Hass Business School. Eventually, these communities foster deep relationships that will result in formulating joint projects, initiatives and even doing assignments.


The final piece of this process is the “Capital”. Philanthropy University believes these  organizations are stronger and better positioned to respond to the critical issues in their communities than an external interventions from the global north. While understanding the many challenges and frustrations faced by these grassroot level organizations to access capital, Philanthropy University is looking at making capital most accessible for these organizations. At present, research are been done to explore the feasibility as well as to streamline the process. In coming years Philanthropy university is hoping to be catalyst for these organizations to gain access to funders.

Through this combination of courses, community, and access to capital, Philanthropy University will help measurably improve 5,000 local organizations in the Global South, enabling them to more effectively improve the lives of the people they serve.